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A New Look at Two Piedmontese Wineries
By Ed McCarthy
Jan 21, 2020
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Italy’s Piedmont region is in northwest Italy, with France at its western border and Switzerland to the north.  Its main wine region, the Langhe, which includes the towns of Alba and Asti, has normally been a very traditional area, where change occurs very slowly. But two Piedmontese wineries, Vietti and Domenico Clerico. have made some striking changes lately.     Both wineries have their roots planted deep in the Langhe, home of great red wines: Barolo and Barbaresco—both made from the majestic Nebbiolo variety—plus Barbera, plus other red wines, such as Barbera, Dolcetto, and Freisa.

The recent purchase of the Vietti Winery by a huge American company, Krause Holdings, led to many changes at Vietti, the primary one being the purchase of important vineyards throughout the Langhe zone, and the acquiring of another winery, San Giorgio, by one part of the family, in the neighboring region of Lombardy.

Vietti can trace its wine history back 147 years.  In 1919, Mario Vietti made Vietti’s first Barolo.  When Mario Vietti died in 1952, Alfredo Currado, a young, upcoming winemaker, gradually took over winemaking duties at Vietti.  In 1960, Alfredo married Luciana Vietti, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Both Luciana and Alfredo were devotees of art, and their home in Castiglione Falletto, a tiny wine village in the Barolo zone, is adorned with interesting art works.  Luciana loved travel, and spoke English.  With her encouragement, the couple made several visits to the United States, helping to introduce Barolo and Barbera to Americans, along with the name of their winery--Vietti.

Alfredo Currado was one of the Langhe region’s great innovators.  Up until Alfredo’s arrival, Barolo wine was always made as a blend of several vineyards.  In 1961, Alfredo, who firmly believed in making Barolos from single vineyards, introduced the region’s first single-vineyard Barolo, Rocche de Castiglione.  Today, of course, single-vineyard Barolos and/or Barbarescos are normally produced by most wineries here.  Barolo and Barbaresco, the finest red wines of Piedmont, are made from the Nebbiolo variety.  Currado also revived an almost-extinct white wine variety, Arneis, in 1967, from a few holdings he found in Roero, a neighboring region next to the prime Barolo zones.

Luca Currado, Alfredo and Luciana’s son, joined the winery in 1990, when he turned 21, after graduating from the local oenological school.  In 1998, Luca became the Vietti winemaker.  His father, Alfredo, began a long battle with Parkinson’s disease; he passed away in 2010, at the age of 78.  Luca became one of Piedmont’s top winemakers.  Together with his brother-in-law, Mario Cordero, the Marketing and Commercial Director of the winery, the two ran Vietti—until they decided to sell the winery in July, 2016, to Krause Holdings, a huge convenience store and supermarket operation covering 11 states in U.S.’s Midwest (including about 430 stores).  Krause acquired Vietti's 84 acres of vineyards and purchased 30 more acres in prime vineyard properties.  Luca Currado continues as winemaker with Vietti's expanded vineyards.

Mario Cordero, who is married to Luca’s sister, Emanuela (a veterinarian), eventually moved on.  Mario and Luca both agreed to part after the Krause purchase of Vietti.  With his proceeds from the Krause sale, Mario bought San Giorgio, a magnificent villa and winery in Oltrepó Pavese, an important wine region in southwestern Lombardy, bordering Piedmont.  The soil and climate in Oltrepó Pavese is quite different from that in Piedmont; here Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow, and this region is also one of Italy’s best areas for sparkling wine production as well as Italy’s major Pinot Noir producer.

Mario Cordero turned over ownership of San Giorgio to his three children, Francesco, Lorenzo, and Caterina.  Lorenzo took charge of wine production.  He is primarily making Pinot Noir (aka Pinot Nero); his father, Mario, is in charge of marketing; Mario has many commercial contacts, particularly in Rome, that he had developed while marketing Vietti’s wines.

And so Vietti Wines now has two branches:  The original Vietti, now owned by Krause Holdings, with Luca Cordero chief executive and winemaker; and San Giorgio in Oltrepó Pavese, run by Mario Cordero's and Emanuela Vietti Cordero's three children.  The mother, Luciana Vietti, who still lives in Castiglione Falletto, plays no favorites, and visits the San Giorgio Winery regularly.

Another Piedmont winery with a new face is Domenico Clerico.  When I first visited Domenico Clerico in the village of Monforte d’Alba in the 1980s, I was not impressed by his small, nondescript winery, but I was impressed by the man, Domenico Clerico.  After Domenico’s father passed away in 1976, Domenico, then just 26 years old, inherited the family winery, and started buying vineyards.  In 1979, Domenico Clerico began making wines.  By 2011, the 4 hectares of vineyards inherited from his father now expanded to 52 acres in Monforte d’Alba.

At first, Clerico was influenced by the “modernist” style of winemaking which was beginning to take place among 8 or 9 young winemakers—known as the “Barolo Boys”—in the Langhe—all of whom started using barriques rather than the traditional large barrels (called "bottes") to age their Barolos, and aged the wines for the legally minimum amount of time rather than the longer periods favored by traditional winemakers.  The resulting Barolos made from this process were ready to drink earlier, but did not hold up well with age. 

Actually, Clerico was never an “extreme” modernist, but combined traditional winemaking methods as well.  Domenico Clerico always stressed caring for his vineyards more than making the wines.  In 2005, Clerico began using his first vineyard outside of Monforte, in the nearby village of Serralunga d’Alba—known for making the most powerful Barolos; the vineyard has an unusual name, Aeroplan Servaj.  With time, Clerico gradually transitioned into a more traditional style of winemaking.

But two major changes then took place: Clerico built a new, state-of-the-art winery In Monforte d’Alba in 2011; it is very modern, but built to fit in with the environment.  There is nothing like it in Piedmont.  It is breathtaking.  Then Domenico hired an experienced winemaker to work with him, but to really take over the winemaking; his name is Oscar Arrivabene.  In a recent visit to the new winery, I was overwhelmed by the quality of all the Domenico Clerico wines.  They have never been better. 

A sad note: Domenico Clerico passed away at the age of 67 in July, 2017, after a 10 year battle with cancer.

Did Clerico see the future, which possibly prompted him to build a new winery and hire an experienced winemaker?  Domenico’s wife, Giuliana, today runs the estate, with its magnificent winery, and with oenologist-winemaker Oscar Arrivabene in charge of winemaking.  Domenico and Giuliana’s only child, a daughter, passed away at the age of seven; Domenico made arrangements for his nephew and niece to eventually inherit the winery.

And so, changes have come to two Piedmont wineries, but for the better.  Vietti wines are as good as ever—and perhaps even better.  Just this year, Luca Currado introduced a new white wine to the Vietti portfolio, Timorasso, from the grape of the same name.  I believe this was an excellent move.  Timorasso ia a long-lived dry white wine, more serious than Vietti’s only other white wine, Arneis.  Also, a new winery, San Giorgio, has emerged in Oltrepó Pavese, focusing on Pinot Noir.  I look forward to trying the wines.  I tasted some sample Pinot Noirs from Lorenzo Cordero's first harvest, and the wines were quite good.  And Domenico Clerico gave all of us Piedmontese wine lovers two gifts before he passed away, a superb, modern new winery, and Clerico wines that are now better than ever.